Employability enhancement

With nearly 50% of Dutch youth entering Higher Education (VSNU 2016) it is of great importance that students obtain a higher education degree with recognisable added value and acquire a distinct graduate profile. Graduates should become outstanding academic professionals and professional academics and engaged citizens who are able to take up positions both in and outside of academia and contribute to solutions for the challenges facing our society today.


  • Students prepare for a wide variety of careers in a competitive job-market;
  • Students develop a distinctive profile as a higher education graduate;
  • Students develop a mind-set for life-long learning;
  • Programmes include the development of (transferable) skills.

What are the key aspects?

Employment is the number one outcome that, in increasing proportions, prospective students expect to get from higher education. However, employment should not be confused with employability. Whilst employment refers to jobs, employability is a set of attributes that makes a graduate worth employing. Whilst jobs come and go as the labour market and economy change, the graduate should be equipped to continuously develop employability skills further.  To be addressed effectively, for employability it is desirable  to include aspects in teaching and learning policies, processes, practices and curriculum design. It should be addressed throughout the student lifecycle; from the very start of a student programme through to the completion of their studies. All stakeholders, including academic and support staff, students, careers services, student organisations, and employers, have a role to play in embedding employability and should be invited to collaborate in this process. (see also Framework for Embedding Employability in Higher Education (2015), HEA).

In general, higher education programmes aspire to develop students with the following qualities:

  • Professionals with a sound knowledge of the discipline and a critical, inquisitive mindset.
  • They are able to take on leading positions, are entrepreneurial and can work in partnership with colleagues from different cultures, disciplines and backgrounds.
  • As citizens, they engage with the societal challenges facing the world and want to play an active role in finding solutions.
  • They are culturally aware and internationally competent.
  • They are able to make use of the international, intercultural and gender diversity that characterise our society and job market in order to arrive at sustainable and responsible solutions.
  • They are capable of reflecting critically on the cultural and social background of their own values.

These qualities can be developed  by addressing them in the formal curriculum as well as support-services (career services) and extracurricular opportunities (work placements, projects, study abroad)

Curriculum: When designing or reviewing courses it is important to be specific about the knowledge, skills and  attitudes described in the Graduate Attributes. Besides discipline-specific attributes in the domains just mentioned, overarching transferable skills should also be included (see Transferrable Skills HYPERLINK). Where possible, these attributes should be translated into measurable learning objectives that can be integrated into existing modules, transferable skills learning-pathways  or offered as separate employability  modules.

Co-curricular programmes and activities:

In many if not all higher education institutions, students are encouraged to take part in co-curricular programmes closely linked to their study courses, such as mentor-/tutor programmes, internships, projects and (skills) courses, either on a mandatory or voluntary basis. Honours tracks offer further opportunities to develop an inquisitive, critical mindset and a variety of interpersonal skills

Extracurricular activities

Careers services offer support and guidance on internships, career options, job applications and facilitate a variety of practical workshops relating to job applications. Furthermore they are often the linchpin to student organisations and other partners which offer a variety of symposia and career fairs with alumni and employers.

How do you know you are on the right track?

Making progress comprises (re-)designing education as well as keeping track of results. But how can you know that you are making progress? Summarizing the general process of educational design and specific models for curriculum re-design we propose the following three-step approach:

Step 1. Reformulate the (university’s) objectives  into questions concerning the current situation (today) and  the desired situation in the future

Step 2. Make the answers to the questions measurable

Step 3. Use the answers as input for further (re-)design

For example:

1) How are students prepared for a wide variety of careers today and in the future? Examples of measurable answers: transferable skills are included in (x) courses; (x) guest lectures from different fields

2) To what extent do graduates develop a distinctive profile today and in the future? Examples of measurable answers: (x) students report finding suitable employment easily

3) How do students develop a mind-set for life-long learning today and in the future? Examples of measurable answers: (%) teachers model life-long learning by taking courses;

4) To what extent do programs include the development of (transferable) skills today and in the future? Examples of measurable answers: in (x) separate skills trainings; embedded in (x) courses.

Further reading

  • University Careerzone
  • Peg et al (2012), Pedagogy for employability https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/pedagogy-employability-2012 Higher Education Academy (HEA) – This HEA publication includes a series of case studies, which focus on teaching and learning strategies that supports the development of student employability.
  • Walma van de Molen, J., Kirchner, P. (2016) Met de juiste vaardigheden de arbeidsmarkt op. (In Dutch only)
  • Vanhercke et.al. (2014), Forrier et.al.  (2015), Perceived employability and psychological functioning framed by gain and loss cycles.
  • Cole, D., Tibby, M. (2013) Defining and developing your approach to employability https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/employability_framework.pdf
  • EPLOYABILITY, Literatuurstudie naar theorie en empirie, ROA 2017. https://cris.maastrichtuniversity.nl/portal/files/12794679/ROA_R_2017_2.pdf
  • Bowden, J., Hart, G., King, B., Trigwell, K., & Watts, O. (2000) Generic capabilities of ATN university graduates, Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Example Academic Training Course (Faculty of Science)

Location: Leiden, Biopharmaceutical Sciences

What is this course about?

The Academic Training course runs through the entire Bachelor programme. In this learning path, a broad spectrum of skills is focused on empirical research; searching and reading scientific literature, formulating a research question, developing a research plan, conducting  research, writing a concise research report and a literature summary / abstract, presenting a research plan and / or research results, logical reasoning and collaboration. During this course, attention  is also  paid to academic integrity, the competence profile and the employment perspective of a (drug) researcher on the basis of (self-) reflection assignments and the faculty lecture series On being a Scientist, coordinated by Mr. Prof. dr. Dr. B. Haring and Mr. Prof. dr. Dr. F. van Lunteren.

What are the objectives?

During the courses students  learn to deal with scientific literature, prepare scientific research, critically evaluate their own work and the work of others, to work together effectively, and to effectively convey their work to others. They also learn to develop presentation skills, writing skills and career related skills such as pitching and networking.

Example Master programme Career Orientation (Faculty of Science

Location: Leiden, Biomedical Sciences
Working groups, online reflection assignments, guestlectures, career activities, 1 EC
Level: curricular

What is this course about?
The activities within Career orientation are meant to help students with the first steps of their career. The course stimulates students to undertake a variety of activities that will help them to make a god start!

What are the objectives?

During the course students identify and reflect on their career and lifestyle preferences, learn what they have to offer society, think broadly about career options, actively explore career options and learn about the neccessary steps to take on the career ladder..

Example module Career preparation (Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Location: Leiden, Political Science 
Plenary sessions (co-curricular), Skills education (curricular), Courses including links to the job market (curricular), Workshops and events (extra-curricular)
Level: curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular

What is this course about?
The focus of the Job Market Preparation module is to help students with the choices and options  they face during their studies and their career. Students learn to reflect on their own learning, and can link the knowledge, skills and experiences from the study programme to options and wishes for their own future professional career

More teaching examples

Links to best practices Employability at curricular level

Links to best practices Employability at co-curricular level